Opinion: The G20: Sound and Fury in Hamburg

The Group of Twenty (G20) met over the weekend in the German port city of Hamburg. This is a grouping – with South Africa as the only African member – that consists of two-thirds of the global population; 85% of its economic output; and 80% of world trade. It has pretentious ambitions to coordinate the global economy, but in actual fact has no secretariat or implementing committees, and none of its resolutions are legally binding – writes Professor Adekeye Adebajo.

Prof Adekeye Adebajo is the Director of the Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation (IPATC) at the University of Johannesburg (UJ).

G20 summits between 2008 and 2010 focused on the global financial crisis, stressing growth, financial regulation, bailouts, and the need to avoid protectionist trade wars. Since 2010, the group has focused on green growth, energy security, finance, trade, structural reform, and development. Debt has increasingly dominated debates, as the euro financial crisis deepened. In a bout of “euphoric planning”, G20 leaders pledged in 2014 to increase global growth by 2%, as if they wielded magic wands.

The G20 has again, in Hamburg, acted like European alchemists seeking to turn lead into gold with empty slogans and high-sounding resolutions that will surely meet with the same fate as that of their medieval ancestors. The group grandiosely describes itself as the “premier” institution for global economic governance, and patronizingly talks about giving Africa a place in the global economy and providing emerging countries a greater say in global economic management. Much of the G20’s 34 commitments to Africa issued since 2009 could, however, simply have been ditched in the rubbish heaps of the various G20 capitals almost before the ink had dried on these meaningless pieces of paper. On issues of sustainable development, conflict resolution, the refugee crisis, and climate change, the G20 has been long on talk, but short on concrete actions and even shorter in providing significant resources.

At the G20 Africa Partnership investment conference in Berlin last month, Germany bizarrely invited the leaders of Lilliputian Rwanda, Senegal, Niger, Mali, as well as

Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, and Egypt. Both Rwanda and Egypt have horrendous governance records, and it was strange that South Africa and Nigeria – accounting for over 60% of their respective sub-regional economies – were not present.

Germany’s much touted “Marshall Plan with Africa” – seeking to promote growth, jobs, security, democracy, and human rights – is an absurdity that surely makes a mockery of the historic $100 billion American plan of 1948 which catalyzed the reconstruction of Western Europe. The current plan lacks substantive resources, and has been widely criticised as having been devised in Germany’s ministry of economic development in Berlin with no meaningful input from its supposed African beneficiaries.

Germany’s “Marshall Plan”, in fact, appears to have more to do with stabilizing the migration crisis that has seen one million refugees (over half from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan; as well as others from Ethiopia, Nigeria, and North Africa) entering Germany since 2015. This has hurt Chancellor Angela Merkel domestically, and forced her to embark on trips to the Sahel, North Africa, and Ethiopia, in a bid to find ways to keep African migrants at home.

The G20 “Compact with Africa” – coordinated by Germany’s finance ministry – largely recycles many of the failed experiments of the World Bank and IMF over the last four decades: macroenomic stability; private sector investment; financial liberalization; privatizing state-owned enterprises; securing property rights; and deregulating markets.

The plan thus fails to focus sufficiently on African priorities of how to promote genuine regional integration in a continent with just 12% of intra-regional trade, how to create sustainable employment for Africa’s youth who now account for 60% of the continent’s population, and how to manage conflicts and build effective developmental states.

With all the G20’s sloganeering about “inclusive growth”, “financial resilience”, “digital innovation”, and “fighting financing of terrorism”, one should not expect much from the recent meeting of this group of mostly rich countries. This is another club of glorified

pomposities issuing high-sounding declarations that will have little impact on the real world.

With their litany of resolutions, these leaders cause the very trees to be cut down that they should be saving, spewing noxious hot air into an already polluted global environment. 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions are, in fact, caused by these 20 countries. Until the unjust international governance system of “global apartheid” is genuinely reformed, this summit will amount to a Shakespearean tale “told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Johannesburg. This article was originally published in Business Day on 10 July 2017.

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